by J. Michael Shannon
Linus once told Charlie Brown, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”
Sometimes, we all need a break from people. That may especially be true after coming off an intensive week as many of us just have at the NACC. But if we “can’t stand people,” we’re in trouble in church work. Churches are full of people. The world is, for that matter. Nearly everything we do in life is dependent on us being able to manage relationships with each other. No great thing is ever accomplished without cooperation. No one person can perform all the tasks that need to get done – especially in the church. When a congregation succeeds, it’s always the result of the labor of many.
Some of the qualities that define a leader are the ability to motivate people, utilize their gifts, and marshal their resources. Nehemiah illustrates this for us. Even though the needs of Jerusalem – rebuilding the wall especially – were heavy on his heart, he knew there was no way he could do all that needed done by himself.
Nehemiah first got permission from his king to go about the task God had laid upon his heart. No doubt, Nehemiah’s faithful service gave the king a good reason to grant his request. Nehemiah found favor in the eyes of Artaxerxes. The king even seemed to take a genuine interest in what Nehemiah wanted to accomplish. Not only did he give Nehemiah permission, but significant resources as well. Our cultivation of good manners and courtesy will allow some people, even some outside the church, to help us with our task. Nehemiah marshaled resources.
Nehemiah also knew he had to motivate God’s people. He did this by having a plan and challenging people. People can be expected to react or respond to a plan, but they don’t craft one without the guidance of a leader. It is the leader’s job to set the agenda and the goals; the people’s job is to amend and adopt them. The vision Nehemiah cast for the people of Jerusalem was a great challenge – it seemed nearly impossible. But the people responded and rose to the challenge, perhaps because of Nehemiah’s careful planning, and perhaps because of his enthusiasm.
Notice his willingness to work side by side with the people. Sometimes leaders do not receive respect because they insulate and separate themselves from the hard work and labor. Nehemiah was, in today’s terms, a player/coach. That is not a bad model for a minister, elder, or deacon.
The satisfaction of seeing the walls built was not motivation enough, and Nehemiah knew this. He helped motivate the people by allowing them to work near their own homes. Each man was vitally interested in his own home being protected. That personal buy-in kept the people going when the labor got discouraging.
Finally, Nehemiah knew the ultimate reward for volunteer laborers – words of thanks and commendation. Too seldom do we give words of commendation in the church. Maybe this is because we have been erroneously taught that to work unselfishly means to work without thanks. They are not the same thing. Very few people in the church are paid anything for the labor they give. The least they can expect are words like “well done,” “thank you,” and “we couldn’t do this without you” from their leaders. Many people are convinced, but would never admit it out loud, that they are inept, have failed, and are not making any difference. Our words of encouragement can keep them going and build them up for future service as well.
We must cultivate our people power because we desperately need people. The old saying is true: “It is never too heavy when we all lift together.”